Frida, named in honor of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, is now open in the former Tapas space at 1150 New Britain Ave. in Elmwood.
By Ronni Newton
The Pastor machine spins as slivers of marinated, roasted pork, infused as its spit-grilled with a pineapple on top, are expertly sliced off into a tortilla.
It’s a common dish in Mexico City, where Xiomara Zamudio is from, but not something you find in many local Mexican restaurants, where the food is more “Tex-Mex” than authentically Mexican.
At Frida, which officially opened Dec. 13 in West Hartford and will have its grand opening Dec. 18, the food is made from scratch, with attention to detail and authentic recipes and ingredients. Many menu items are are “street food,” what you might find while strolling through Mexico City.
Zamudio, most recently a chef at DORO Restaurant Group’s Zohara in West Hartford Center, co-owns the restaurant with Sandy Sanchez, a native of Colombia who brings a bit of her own native cuisine to the menu.
“It’s a new concept” in the West Hartford area, Zamudio said.
Pambazos ($9), one of the appetizers, is something you won’t find on the menu of other local restaurants, Zamudio said. It’s a mixture of Mexican roll dipped in salsa and grilled, combined with potatoes, chorizo, guajillo chile (a Mexican pepper that she said isn’t too spicy), and then combined with sour cream, lettuce, and queso fresco.
Sanchez said the Empanadas Colombianas are her family’s recipe.
Appetizers ($8-$10) also include fresh guacamole, Sopa Azteca, Taco Placero (fried pork skin, queso, avocado slices, nopalitos, and corn tortillas), and Veggies Tostaditas.
Fresh, house-made chips and salsa appear even before the drink orders are taken.
There are salads ($9-$10), to which meat or shrimp can be added, including Nopal, which includes cactus, tomatoes, red onion cilantro, parsley, olive oil and vinegar.
Tacos, burritos, quesadillas, and huaraches can be customized with a choice of meat, including pastor, lengua (beef tongue), chorizo, carnitas, barbacoa (lamb), or arrachera (skirt steak), as well as chicken, or veggies.
Enchiladas Potosinas – homemade corn tortillas with guajillo chilis, queso, onions, beans, guacamole, lettuce, and sour cream – is a main dish from San Luis Potosi, Mexico, where Sanchez’s husband, Juan, is from. In fact, Sanchez said, they are following the recipe from her husband’s grandmother.
The entrees ($17-$27) include an extensive number of seafood dishes, including an Oyster cocktail – a very popular dish in Mexico, Zamudio said.
There are several varieties of ceviche and roasted octopus tostadas, and side dishes that are not the customary Tex-Mex rice and beans.
The dessert menu is still under development, but will includes flan, churros, and “something different,” Sanchez said.
“We want to show people a different thing,” Zamudio said, “We want to show people my country, my culture.”
The craft bar features a variety of infusion-based margaritas – including a signature purple Frida margaritas. Cocktails, some of which feature Mezcal rather than tequila, contain pieces of whole fruit, and there’s a special machine that dispenses flash-frozen margaritas. The bar also features a selection of wines, Mexican beers and local IPAs, Mexican sodas, and fresh juices.
The interior of the former Tapas was totally gutted, and now includes an open kitchen and sleek new bar. Even the exposed brick wall is new. That wall is graced by a mural of the restaurant’s namesake, Frida Kahlo, which was painted by Benjamin Keller, who just finished the mural on exterior of the Juniper Homecare building a few blocks east on New Britain Avenue.
There’s also a mural of wings in the entryway, an Instagrammable space with Frida Kahlo’s message: “Feet, what do I need you for when I have wings to fly” and the hashtag #FridaWestHartford. That mural was painted by local artist Samathan Izenco.
Zamudio and Sandy Sanchez, now West Hartford residents, became friends while working at Plaza Azteca and Puerto Vallarta in Newington. In addition to working at Zohara, Zamudio ran a catering business called “Frida on the Road.” Sanchez was working as a preschool teacher at Charter Oak International Academy.
“At the beginning so many people told us we couldn’t do this,” Zamudio said, but with resolve, attention to detail, and a desire to do everything right, other than some unexpected construction issues (like unearthing strange plumbing configurations when they dug up the concrete floor of the original Tapas space) she said the process has been smooth. People in the town “have all been so nice,” she said.
Frida Kahlo was disabled by polio as a child, but despite that was able to achieve her goals. Frida’s website quotes the artist’s motto: “To all that manage to leave traces on others, are able to live forever even if their physical bodies do not” and adds “A true inspiration that helped two families make our vision a reality for all and enjoy!”
Frida is a family undertaking in many ways, with the interior build-out done by SLP Contractors, owned by Sandy Sanchez’s husband, Juan Salazar. Zamudio’s husband, Daniel Chavez, worked with Juan Salazar on the project. Initial demolition of the former Tapas restaurant was managed by building owner Robert Udolf, whose wife, Danielle, added design touches to the sleek and modern, yet casual, new restaurant.
Frida is now open daily for lunch and dinner, Sunday and Monday from 11 a.m.-9 p.m., Tuesday through Thursday from 11 a.m.-10 p.m., and Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m.-11 p.m. For more information visit the website, or call 860-310-2179.
A few months ago Juan Salazar also bought a former pizza place at 555 Day Hill Rd. in Windsor, now called Zocco’s Mexican and Italian Restaurant. He updated the interior, and Sandy Sanchez said she’s expanded her cooking repertoire from Mexican and Colombian specialities, and makes the Italian sauce for that restaurant.
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